A wave of xenophobic violence has engulfed communities across KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa in the past week, with foreign-owned shops looted and foreign nationals driven out of informal settlements by mobs of angry locals. As the violence has spread, many people have asked whether South Africa is headed for a situation similar to the xenophobic attacks of 2008 that left more than 60 people dead.

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Earlier in April, Violence erupted in Umlazi and KwaMashu in KwaZulu-Natal province before spreading to coastal city Durban. On 14 April, there were running battles in Durban as crowds attempted to attack foreign-owned shops and police fired tear gas to disperse them. The unrest was triggered after Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini said in remarks to the media that foreigners should “pack their bags and go home”.

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An Ethiopian street vendor told News 24 he had received a message via social media warning of planned violence against immigrant communities in the city [Johannesburg]. “Their mission is to kill every foreigner on the road please pass this to all your contacts in case they come people should be on alert,” it reads. Foreign shop owners have closed their doors in fear of an attack and there is a high police presence on the streets, reports EWN, in the wake of five days of violence in Durban that have left five dead.

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The unrest has brought back memories of the 2008 riots in South Africa, which began in a Johannesburg township with deadly attacks on immigrants, and spread to Durban and Cape Town. “The president isn’t saying anything. This xenophobia thing is coming back again because the government did not do what it was supposed to do in 2008. There is no security here. If anything were to happen, what will they do?” he told News 24

Human Rights Watch has urged the South African government to condemn the comments. In a statement, it said: “Reckless and inflammatory public statements, such as those made by Zwelithini prior to the Durban violence, should be unambiguously condemned. And those who cross the line into direct incitement to violence against migrants should be prosecuted.”

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